Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: HHS

Four Ways Data is Transforming Your Health

The increasing availability of data about health care in the U.S. is empowering patients to take charge of their care and quietly revolutionizing how patients are treated. Last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released data on which services were provided by over 880,000 health care providers, how many times each service was provided, and what the providers charged. Yesterday, top health and technology experts for the federal government and the Brookings Institution gathered to discuss how the growing catalogue of public health care data is leading to profound improvements in America’s health care. The event was hosted by Brookings’ Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform in collaboration with 1776 DC’s Challenge Festival.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Here are the top four ways that data transparency is already beginning to transform Americans’ health. The benefits are expected to grow as the data is analyzed, matched with other sources, and organized into user-friendly and accessible formats.

 

1.    Selecting the best doctor

When Farzad Mostashari learned that his mother needed an epidural steroid injection, he wanted to find out which orthopedic surgeon was the best at this specific procedure. So he searched the millions of medical claims recently released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to discover which providers were the most experienced in this procedure.

An interesting result emerged. “There is one provider who does more than everyone else combined,” said Mostashari, who is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is focused on payment reform and delivery system transformation. “He’s probably pretty good.”

As health care data increasingly becomes available, patients will have more information to make the most rational decisions for their health care, said Kavita Patel, a physician and fellow in the Economic Studies program and managing director for clinical transformation and delivery at the Engelberg Center.

Patel asks her patients why they choose to see her. “Nobody’s ever said: ‘I looked up your quality scores and saw that your out-of-pocket costs are less than the average provider in your area,” Patel said of her 12 years in medical practice. “This is one of the first times that everyone in this room can take out a laptop…and look at this data.”

Mostashari added that the data can be used to identify outliers. For instance, he found that while the average orthopedic surgeon performed controversial spinal fusion surgeries on 7 percent of the patients they saw, some did so on 35 percent. This knowledge empowers patients to choose providers that best align with their health care values and preferences.

 

2.    Reducing costs

The newly-released CMS data enables comparisons of the prices different providers charge for the same services. This data reveals that in some cases providers charge vastly different rates to Medicare for the same services, Mostashari said. The Wall Street Journal provides a consumer-friendly database detailing the types of procedures, number of each, and costs per procedure charged by individual health care providers.

Last year’s release of hospital charges led some hospitals that were charging higher rates to uninsured and underinsured patients than their peers to seek advice from CMS. “Some hospital associations called us and said, ‘We want to change. Help us develop new accounting practices to set prices more fairly for those who are uninsured or underinsured,’” said Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS.

The ability to access and analyze a growing amount of data on procedures performed and their outcomes also helps patients and providers avoid low value services and make decisions about the relative risks and benefits of different procedures. Patel pointed out an ABIM Foundation initiative called Choosing Wisely that equips providers and patients with lists of procedures that should be carefully considered and discussed to ensure that care is supported by evidence, not duplicative, free from harm, and truly necessary.

 

3.    Promoting accountability

When health care providers know that their records will be publically available for scrutiny, they are incentivized to ensure that they won’t be embarrassed by what people find. This can profoundly change which procedures providers choose. For instance, one analysis revealed a wide disparity between the percentage of black versus white patients who were tested for cholesterol levels. “Simply asking providers how often they were doing [cholesterol tests], without any payment incentive,” removed this disparity, said Darshak Sanghavi, the Richard Merkin fellow and a managing director of the Engelberg Center. “This is one example of how simple transparency can improve health care and ultimately save lives.”

 

4.    Expediting spread of best practices

Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator at CMS, has seen data transparency expedite the uptake of best practices by health care providers and public health authorities. For example, when analyzing the data on dialysis providers, CMS found that there was an uptick in blood transfusions by certain providers in specific geographic regions. “Our medical team got on the phone and called the dialysis providers and said: ‘Did you know you are doing more blood transfusions than your peers?’” The result? Those providers decreased blood transfusions, improving health outcomes for their patients. The same pattern occurred for nursing home facilities that overused antipsychotic drugs.

“I want to convince folks that you can change policy, you can change procedures, you can make things safer,” Blum said. “Data liberation can help us build [accountable care organizations], help us build better payment policies, help us reduce hospital readmissions. There is tremendous opportunity ahead for us.”

Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health & Human Services, added that data transparency is affording entrepreneurs from outside the health care sector – such as startups Aidin, Purple Binder, and Oscar – the potential to transform the health care system.

“We’re sitting on the edge of an incredible moment in history,” he said. “Everybody is looking at things in a different way because everybody understands that we have to do things differently.”

“Government data is a public good and a national asset,” said Claudia Williams, Senior Advisor for Health IT and Innovation for the U.S. CTO in the White House. “It’s something we have to release if we can to allow innovation and change.”

How do you make your health care decisions? Have you used any of these new tools?

Categories: General

Get Your Flu Shot Now to Stay Healthier Later

So you think you’re too busy to get your flu shot? It’s easy to put off, but taking the time to do it sooner rather than later could prevent you from getting sick while helping to protect those you care about – during the holidays and beyond. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health departments as well as other health agencies are raising visibility around National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), from Dec. 8-14.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

With the flu season beginning in the fall and not peaking until January-February, it’s certainly not too late to get your influenza shot. In fact, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older receive it, including:

  • Children
  • Seniors 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • Those with underlying health conditions like asthma
  • Those living with conditions including chronic lung disease, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer and diabetes

Although the effectiveness of flu vaccination varies each year, the CDC reports that recent studies demonstrate the evidence-based public health benefits. The Mayo Clinic agrees, calling flu shots your best defense against the flu, enabling “your body to develop the antibodies necessary to ward off influenza viruses.”

“The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year,” said CDC’s Anne Schuchat, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Today, flu vaccines are available in more convenient locations than ever. The few minutes it takes to get a flu vaccine can save you from experiencing several unproductive days due to influenza. The most common side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza infection.  Flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.”

Despite evidence that the influenza vaccine is an effective tool, some still fear that getting their shot might put them at risk for experiencing severe side effects. No more than one or two cases per million people vaccinated acquire Guillain-Barré syndrome, an outcome much lower than the risk of developing severe complications from influenza. From 1976-2006, in fact, estimates show that far more people died from flu-associated deaths in the U.S. (3,000-49,000) than from negative reactions to the vaccines that protect against influenza.

To build awareness and support of NIVW and encourage people to get their shots, the CDC is making a rich variety of online tools and resources available to a wide spectrum of patients, educators and providers, such as:

Partnering with Reckitt Benckiser, Inc., the makers of LYSOL® Brand Products, the CDC is also spotlighting the Ounce of Prevention Campaign, which seeks to empower consumers and professionals with practical tips and information around effective hand hygiene and cleaning habits to prevent infectious diseases like the flu.

Click here to see if the vaccine is available in your area. To find a nearby location to get the vaccine, check out HHS’s “Flu Vaccine Finder” on Flu.gov, enter your ZIP code and share the widget to let your family members, colleagues and friends know where they can go too. HHS also provides a series of informative YouTube videos that cover prevention strategies, share tips for identifying symptoms and provide recommended treatment practices.

You can also make a powerful statement by taking the pledge to get vaccinated for the 2013-14 season, commit to taking a friend with you and in the process spread the word by clicking here. To get the latest updates on flu vaccination efforts, follow the CDC on Twitter (@CDCFlu and @CDCgov) and “like” them on Facebook.

Now tell us if you’ve gotten your flu shot. Where did you go? How long did it take? What ways could providers and health care stakeholders more effectively remind patients to get vaccinated?

(Medical) Home is Where the Care and Cost-Savings Are

The word “home” has many connotations: the building in which you live, the place you come from, and even the end point of a game. Now, there is a new type of home: The Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH).

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

PCMH is a model of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible and focused on quality and safety. It has become a widely accepted – and cost-effective – model for how primary care should be organized and delivered, encouraging providers to give patients the right care in the right place, at the right time and in the manner that best suits their needs.

“The magnitude of savings depends on a range of factors, including program design, enrollment, payer, target population, and implementation phase,” explains Michelle Shaljian, MPA, Chief Strategy Officer of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC). “Most often, the medical home’s effect on lowering costs is attributed to reducing expensive, unnecessary hospital and emergency department utilization.”

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, medical homes got a boost because of numerous provisions that increased primary care payments, expanded insurance coverage and invested in medical home pilots, among other programs.

The model has been adopted by more than 90 health plans, dozens of employers, 43 state Medicaid programs, numerous federal agencies, hundreds of safety net clinics and thousands of small and large clinical practices nationwide since then. Among the results:

  • In Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield – the nation’s largest PCMH designation program — saved an estimated $155 million in preventative claim costs over the first three years of implementation.
  • CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield in Maryland reported nearly $40 million savings in 2011 and a 4.2 percent average reduction in expected patient’s overall health care costs among 60 percent of practices participating for six or more months.
  • In New York, the Priority Community Healthcare Center Medicaid Program in Chemung County saved about $150,000 or 11 percent in the first nine months of implementation, reduced hospital spending by 27 percent and reduced ER spending by 35 percent.
  • In Pennsylvania, Pinnacle Health achieved a zero percent hospital readmission rate for PCMH patients versus a 10-20 percent readmission rate for non-PCMH patients.

The PCPCC is the leading national coalition dedicated to advancing PCMH. According to PCPCC, the medical home is an approach to the delivery of primary care that is:

  • Patient-centered: A partnership among practitioners, patients and their families ensures that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs and preference, and that patients have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care.
  • Comprehensive: A team of care providers is accountable for a patient’s physical and mental health needs, including prevention and wellness, acute care, and chronic care.
  • Coordinated: Care is organized across all elements of the broader health care system, including specialty care, hospitals, home health care, community services and supports.
  • Accessible: Patients access services with shorter wait times, “after hours” care, 24/7 electronic or telephone access, and strong communication through health IT innovations.
  • Committed to quality and safety: Clinicians and staff enhance quality improvement through the use of health IT and other tools to ensure that patients and families make informed decisions about their health.

According to Melinda Abrams, Vice President of Patient-Centered Primary Care Program at the Commonwealth Fund, to have the greatest impact, a medical home must be located at the center of a “medical neighborhood” inhabited by hospitals, specialty physicians, physical therapists, social workers, long-term care facilities, mental health professionals and other service providers. She notes that it is the role of the primary care provider to coordinate care and make sure that patients don’t slip through the cracks, or receive tests or procedures they’ve already had – a particular concern for patients who see multiple doctors.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) – a non-profit, independent group dedicated to improving health care quality – accredits and certifies a wide range of health care organizations and is the leading national group that recognizes PCMH with the most widely adopted model. Currently, there are almost 5,000 NCQA Recognized PCMHs across the country.

Other organizations with PCMH recognition programs include Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc. (AAAHC), the Joint Commission, and URACVideos from the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) feature family physicians who discuss practice redesign aimed at lowering costs, maximizing staff expertise and improving patient care.

“Practices seeking to initiate a patient-centered medical home will find that an assessment process is very helpful to understand where they are,” said Shaljian. “Some practices have electronic health records, a very strong history of team-based care, and strong connections with specialists, hospitals, and other stakeholders in the community, while others do not. Some are deeply affected by an internal culture of quality improvement, which makes a huge difference in how successful some medical homes are.”

Want to learn more about PCMH? Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality content-rich Resource Center.

How can health care continue to move the nation to PCMH? And how can the model tackle its number-one challenge: the current fee-for-service payment system?

Making Costly – and Deadly – Medical Errors and Unnecessary Hospital Visits Something Only Grandparents Can Remember

“She died from a breakdown in the system. She died from a breakdown in communications.”

These heartbreaking words, from patient safety advocate Sorrel King about the loss of her young daughter Josie King, are words that no one should ever have to say or hear.

Her 10-year commitment to end hospital errors led to a $1 billion war on errors, funded through the Affordable Care Act.  The resulting Partnership for Patients program has already signed up more than 8,000 partners – including organizations and individual medical care providers – in a shared effort to save thousands of lives, prevent millions of injuries and take important steps toward a more dependable and affordable health care system.  According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the participants include:

  • Hospitals and national organizations representing physicians, nurses and other frontline health care and social services providers committed to improving their care processes and systems, and enhancing communication and coordination to reduce complication for patients.
  • Patient and consumer organizations committed to raising public awareness and developing information, tools and resources to help patients and families effectively engage with their providers and avoid preventable complications.
  • Employers and States committed to providing the incentives and support that will enable clinicians and hospitals to deliver high-quality health care to their patients, with minimal burdens.

In the April 2011 announcement launching the program, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shared two goals of the Partnership for Patients:

  1. To reduce preventable injuries in hospitals by 40 percent by the end of 2013, preventing 1.8 million injuries and saving 60,000 lives.
  2. To cut hospital readmissions by 20 percent, saving 1.6 million patient complications that force them to return to the hospital.  Achieving this goal by the end of this year would mean more than 1.6 million patients will recover from illness without suffering a preventable complication requiring re-hospitalization within 30 days of discharge.

{For a video of Ms. King explaining her work and Secretary Sebelius announcing the Partnership for Patients program, please click here.}

According to CMS, a recent study by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) (PDF) found that 13.5% of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries experience adverse events resulting in prolonged hospital stay, permanent harm, life-sustaining intervention, or death. Almost half of those events are considered preventable.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that specific community-wide quality improvement activities are proven to reduce hospital readmissions.

Do you want to find providers and hospitals near you who have signed the pledge? It’s as easy as clicking here.

Do you want to learn more about the specifics of what actions will be taken to reduce accidents and re-admittance, and the studies conducted to determine the solutions?  Check out Altarum Institute’s blog post on the topic.